Tom Osborne’s flirtation with the Michigan State head football coaching position has been chronicled in books, newspapers and simply in spoken lore.
This week, while doing an interview about his 1995 Nebraska team — perhaps the greatest in college football history for today’s LSJ column — Osborne revisited his decision not to accept former MSU president Peter McPherson’s offer to be the Spartans’ head coach, after Nick Saban’s departure in 1999.
Osborne, who is his final months as Nebraska’s athletic director, said he was first offered the job by McPherson in the early 1990s, presumably when George Perles was fired in 1994.
He only left his post at Nebraska after the 1997 season because of a promise to coach-in-waiting Frank Solich that he’d step aside.
“When the time came, I had to keep the promise. But I still missed coaching a lot,” Osborne said.
“And the deciding factor (not to go to MSU in 1999), I guess, when I thought about Michigan State, my children, my grandchildren were all here in Nebraska,” he continued. “My grandson was 5 at the time and he called and was in tears about me, my wife and I possibly leaving and going to Michigan. I just felt at that point it would be something I couldn’t do.
“I was torn. I was tempted. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back here very often. So I decided to stay here, and then I subsequently ran for congress. At least that way I was home every weekend.”
It might have been a very different decade of Spartan football if Osborne had decided the other way.